Do you know how much time each day you’re spending in your inbox?

A 2012 study found the average American worker spends more than a quarter of their work hours on emails. Thats perhaps not surprising, given that more than one billion emails are sent and received to workplace inboxes each day.

That one billion figure can sound a little daunting, so heres another number for you: zero.

If you think the words zeroand emaildont belong in the same sentence, allow us to introduce you to a concept: Inbox Zero.

Maybe the term Inbox Zerosounds a little dramatic, à la District 9or Apollo 13.But its nothing of such epic proportions. Inbox Zero is basically the idea that you have no unread emails in your inbox. No notifications, buzzes, looming red circles. Nada. The term was originally coined by American writer Merlin Mann who has since written a book on the topic.

For some, Inbox Zero may sound like an elusive accomplishment. For others, maybe reading and replying to every last email is ingrained in your everyday activity. Whichever camp youre in, there are benefits of Inbox Zero, especially in the workplace.

Mental Benefits

Achieving Inbox Zero doesnt mean you have to sacrifice your productivity or install a second screen just to deal with incoming emails. Instead, you check your inbox at set periods throughout the day, say once in the morning, once after lunch, and once an hour before you leave for home. This will allow you to keep on top of your inbox, but also provide you the mental space to focus on other tasks.

Psychologically, Inbox Zero has proven to be good for your mental health. A study from the University of California, Irvine, divided Army workers into two groups: half stopped checking their emails for five days and the others went on with their daily email business. Attached to heart rate monitors, the study found non-email checkers had a more regular heart rate, while those frequently monitoring their inboxes had their heart rate on high alert. So once you do get through your emails you can look forward to attaining a greater Zen state.

Be More Productive

That UC Irvine study confirmed something else about frequent email checkers: they get distracted more easily, switching between screens more than twice as much as those not worrying about their inboxes.

How Can I Make Inbox Zero Happen?

A great first step to reaching Inbox Zero is to get rid of emails you dont need in your work inbox. That means clicking the unsubscribe button on newsletters or promotions you signed up for but no longer read.

This is especially relevant if you have personal notifications coming into your professional account. Maybe you signed up for Banana Republic sale alerts one day during your lunch hour, or have your personal Twitter account linked to your work email. Switch off those email alerts or switch the account receiving them.

If youre thinking of all the emails youve received in the time spent reading this article, dont worry. Having your inbox notification count at zero doesnt mean you have to answer emails the moment they arrive.  

Productivity author David Allen recommends something called the Two-Minute Rule.If upon opening an email you think you can read and respond to it in two minutes or less, Allen says go for it. If it takes longer, leave it. Flag the message and sort it into a to-do category for later in the day. This will give you the peace of mind of having opened the email and taken action to follow-up at a future point.

In the end, the greatest motivation to Inbox Zero may be the desire to scratch the eternal email itch, and to leave work at the end of the day with the satisfying knowledge youve emptied your inbox. For a moment, anyways.

 

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